Preview: Denver Nuggets continue homestand vs. Grizzlies

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets have encountered a lot of familiar faces as of late, previously wrapping up their season series against the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets over the weekend before doing the same Monday when they host the Memphis Grizzlies.

Denver (39-21) cruised to a 129-116 victory over the Rockets Saturday in a game that saw Michael Porter Jr. (39 points), PJ Dozier (23 points) and Facundo Campazzo (13 assists) set new career highs. The Nuggets finished with 36 assists and shot 43.2 percent from beyond the arc.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Rockets

Memphis (31-28) will be on the second night of a back-to-back following a win over the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday afternoon. With Ja Morant on a hot streak as of late, the Grizzlies have slowly climbed the Western Conference standings, now just a 1/2 game behind Portland for the seventh seed.

Denver won the first two meetings of the season series, including a dramatic double-overtime victory exactly one week ago at Ball Arena.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude 2 and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Facundo Campazzo vs. Ja Morant

Slowing down Memphis begins and ends with limiting Morant’s effectiveness, which the Nuggets struggled with a week ago. In that meeting, Morant dropped 36 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds on 54.2 percent shooting from the field, nearly leading a shorthanded Grizzlies team to a road victory at Ball Arena.

Morant has been on a tear as of late as Memphis continues to make a push up the standings, with the 21-year-old guard averaging 21.7 points and 7.4 assists per game on 50.6 percent shooting over his last 10 games prior to Sunday's contest against the Trail Blazers. With the Grizzlies receiving some reinforcements in the frontcourt in the form of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valančiūnas in Monday’s contest, Morant will have more support this time around.

Meanwhile, Campazzo continues to adjust to his new role in the starting lineup, balancing his playmaking with enough off-ball movement and shooting to help Nikola Jokić and Porter Jr. Camapzzo has connected on 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts over the last 10 games, a key number for his ability to contribute when the ball isn’t in his hands.

The battle on the boards

Monday’s contest will pit two of the best rebounding teams in the league against each other.

Before Sunday’s action getting underway, Denver ranked second in offensive rebound percentage and 10th in opponent offensive rebound percentage, while Memphis ranks seventh and eleventh in both categories, respectively.

In the Nuggets’ double-overtime victory a week ago, a 58-47 advantage on the glass was a key difference-maker in the end, as both teams shot a similar percentage from the field and from beyond the arc.

If Valančiūnas can return for Monday’s matchup, that will present a new challenge for Jokić and Denver’s frontcourt, especially with Jackson Jr. also back in the fold for Memphis. Given how close the first two meetings between these two teams were, any slight advantage on the glass may make the difference Monday night.

Get back in transition

In Friday’s loss to the Warriors, the Nuggets struggled to get back and defend in transition. Whether off a missed shot, turnover, or even in some cases a made shot, Golden State regularly got easy looks in transition, ultimately playing a key role in sinking Denver’s chances.

Not defending in transition is a recipe for disaster against the Grizzlies, who have been one of, if not the most effective transition team in the league this season. Memphis ranks third in the frequency of possessions that begin with a transition play and first in points added per 100 possessions through transition play.

The Grizzlies look to push the pace and get easy transition buckets at any opportunity, making it crucial that Denver takes care of the ball and gets back to defend. In that April 19 meeting, the Nuggets committed 24 turnovers and Memphis finished with 28 fast break points. If a repeat performance takes place Monday, the Nuggets will have a difficult time securing the season series sweep against the Grizzlies.

Statistics as of April 24.

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